FAIRFIELD – Fairfield’s Central Park was a feast for the eyes and ears on Saturday, Sept. 14, as residents listened to live music while perusing a few dozen booths showcasing different countries.
The event was the second annual World Fair Field festival, a celebration of the community’s international character. The event began with a parade of colors from Howard Park to Central Park, where Mayor Ed Malloy was waiting to give the opening remarks atop a stage set up on Broadway Avenue. The stage was the scene of dance performances and musical acts for the next 10 hours.
Throughout Central Park, tables were decorated with the flags of various nations, and staffed by people from those countries. The tables gave residents a flavor of that person’s homeland, often including that country’s traditional clothing, works of art, photographs of its landscapes and samples of its food and drink.
Following is a selection of some of the countries represented at the festival:
A few students from Maharishi School staffed Vietnam’s table Saturday afternoon. Among them were Nguyen Quoc Thang and Tran Ngoc Anh Thu, both seniors who are in their second year at the school.
Nguyen said one thing people may not know about Vietnam is that, though it may seem small on a map, it contains distinct climates. The northern part of Vietnam, including the capital of Hanoi, has four seasons, but the southern part of the country where Nguyen is from (and which includes its largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City), has only two: wet and dry. In the southern tip of the country, the wet season brings such a deluge of rain that that streets turn to rivers, and everyone has to get around in boats.
The Vietnamese students let the public sample treats from their native country such as Vietnamese coffee and coconut candies. Nguyen said the candies came from a very southern province in the country known for coconut trees.
“[Vietnamese people] used to dry coconut leaves and use them to make the roof of our house,” he said.
A few of the students wore pointed hats made of bamboo. Nguyen said the hat has become the “symbol of Vietnam.”
“They are 100 percent handmade,” he said. “It’s like a secret formula passed down through the generations.” Nguyen said the hats were traditionally worn by farmers but now they’re worn by tourists and the general public alike.
One of the biggest cultural differences Nguyen and the other Vietnamese students have had to adjust to is at the dinner table. Custom in Vietnam calls for preparing a giant dish of food in the center of the table that everyone around it shares, by pushing portions of it into their own bowl with chopsticks. Nguyen said Vietnamese balance the amount of meat and vegetables they eat. Since their entrees tend to be heavy on meat, the soups they eat are mostly vegetables, and a soup is eaten at every dinner. Typical soups include pumpkin, cilantro or water spinach.
Like his classmates at the Vietnamese table, Sekou Ramos is a student at Maharishi School, and he attended Saturday’s festival to represent Mexico, where he has lived for most of his life. Ramos was born in the United States to immigrant parents from different countries, his father from Mexico and his mother from Guinea in West Africa.
Ramos and his family moved to Mexico when he was 4 years old. He grew up living in the city of Puerto Vallarta on the country’s Pacific coast. A few years ago, he moved to Fairfield for his sophomore year of high school, went back to Mexico for his junior year, and has returned to Fairfield once more to earn his diploma.
What has been the biggest difference between life in Iowa and life south of the border? Ramos said neighbors seem to be more intimate with each other, with a greater desire to get to know one another, in Mexico than in the United States.
“And in [the United States], a person’s ‘family’ just includes their first cousins, but in Mexico, someone who is your sixth cousin is still your family,” he said.
Ramos added that food is spicier in Mexico, but not only that, the country’s “fast food” is of higher quality.
“Even the fast food we get there still tastes like you’re eating at home,” he said. “There’s a sense that the food is still prepared in a natural way.”
Colleen Stone and her brother Peter Fenton represented their home country of South Africa. Their table was adorned with photographs of the wildlife for which their country is famous such as the elephant, lion, giraffe, and hippopotamus. Many of them live on reserves where they are protected from hunters. Even still, some like the rhinoceros are killed illegally for their horns. Conservationists have begun removing the horns of rhinos in the hopes this will discourage poachers from killing them.
Stone and Fenton had on display a jersey from the 1995 Rugby World Cup which South Africa hosted and won, and which was the subject of a major motion picture in 2009 called “Invictus” starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, the country’s newly elected president, and Matt Damon portraying the captain of the national rugby team.
“Rugby is a big part of South African sporting culture,” Stone said. “The [1995 Rugby] World Cup was an important time for South Africa, because Mandela had just been released from prison [in 1990]. It was such an amazing moment in the country because Mandela brought everyone together. He wore a Rugby jersey … the jersey of the people who put him in prison. We sang the new anthem together, and waved the new flag.”
Mandela was elected president in 1994, the first fully democratic elections in the country’s history in which both black and white South Africans could participate. From 1948-1994, the country’s white minority ruled under a system called apartheid whereby the races were separated. Blacks needed special permission to be in or work in areas reserved for whites. Stone and Fenton’s table also had a long plastic horn called a “vuvuzela,” a long-time staple of soccer fanatics in the country, and which drew worldwide attention for their loud noise during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which South Africa hosted. The table had seashells on display, which are plentiful on the country’s beautiful, white sand beaches. The brother and sister pair were born and raised in Johannesburg, the nation’s largest city and widely considered the financial capital of the continent. Peter came to the United States in 1995. Colleen waited a few more years, moving to the coastal city of Cape Town before coming to the states in 2009. They make frequent trips to their home country, with Colleen returning every year and Peter returning every other year.
“Half of our family is there,” Stone said. “Our parents and another brother and sister are in Cape Town.”
The United Kingdom’s table was staffed by Polo Ross, a freshman at Maharishi School. Ross grew up in a town called Skelmersdale about half an hour’s drive from Liverpool.
“Iowa, specifically, is a fair bit more wide open and less hilly,” Ross said. “And the weather [in the UK] is less extreme than here. It’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit and raining all the time. In Iowa, it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.”
The Union asked Ross if the change in season was difficult to get used to when he and his younger sister Ria moved to America half a decade ago. He said it was a tough adjustment, though he does enjoy the warm, sunny summers in Iowa.
“Even though I’m English and have very pale white skin, I can get a decent tan being at the pool every summer,” he said.
Ross said the main things he misses about England are the landscape and the family members he left behind. That said, he feels he has a place in this community and is welcome here. After high school, he’s not sure if he will attend college in the states or in his native country.
Isabelle Hubert Matzkin grew up in the small European country of Luxembourg, and moved to the United States in 1983 at age of 19 to attend what was then called Maharishi International University in Fairfield. On Saturday, she, her mother Hilda Hubert, and her husband Michael Matzkin donned traditional Luxembourgish clothing in the spirit of the festival.
Luxembourg is about the size of Rhode Island, snuggled in between France, Germany and Belgium. The country has its own language called Luxembourgish, but considering its small size, the natives are encouraged to learn the tongues of their neighboring countries, meaning French and German.
“Luxembourg is like a mixture of French and German, so when you know those two, English is fairly easy because it’s a Germanic language with French words in it,” said Matzkin. “I was not perfect at English when I came here, but it was good enough to go to the school.”
Matzkin said if someone is driving in Luxembourg, they only need to be on the road for half an hour before they pass into another country. Luckily for Luxembourgers, there are no longer any border checks in most of Europe thanks to the Schengen Convention, an agreement between 26 nations in the European Union that have open borders with each other.
“It makes for such easy travel,” Matzkin said. “You can drive to Germany to go shopping. You can drive to France to go to a concert, and you don’t have to stop at the border. Before, we had to stop and [a security guard] would wave lazily, but even that’s no longer there.”
Matzkin said a big difference between Luxembourg and Iowa is that in Iowa, English is so dominant.
“In Luxembourg, you hear, read and speak three languages plus English all the time, every day,” she said. “If you go to a restaurant, the menu might be in French, and you expect that. One nice thing about speaking a lot of languages is that you think different thoughts. Being fluent in multiple languages broadens your perspective, and can help you see things from someone else’s point of view.”
Does Matzkin miss anything being away from home?
“I miss the castles,” she said.
Matzkin also mentioned she misses her home country’s topography.
“Luxembourg doesn’t have a coastline and it doesn’t have snow peaked mountains, but it does have steep bluffs and valleys,” she said.
When asked about differences in food, Matzkin said the difference isn’t so much in the kind or quality of the food but rather in the ambience of the meal. For starters, Luxembourgers take time to eat. She said that, if you invite someone over, the guests will sit at the table for at least two or three hours.
“It’s a very formal affair with several courses, and the host prepares everything,” she said. “It’s not a potluck. The guests might only bring flowers or chocolates. You’re expected to treat your guests like kings and queens.”
The Central American nation of Guatemala was represented by Evelyn Ellinghaus, her daughter Alejandra Giron, her mother Magda Motta and her friend Luky Boender. Ellinghaus gave away samples of her homemade tamales made with pumpkin seed, tomato and a rich-flavored pepper called chile pasilla.
Their table had examples of “huipiles,” which are traditional garments worn by indigenous women in an area from southern Mexico through Central America. Boender said the style of garments differs from one region to another, even within Guatemala.
Ellinghaus is from the city of Quetzaltenango, which is also known by its Mayan name of Xela (pronounced like “shela”). Within the Mayans, there were two main tribes that ruled the area before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, those being the Kaqchikel and the Mam. These groups have their own languages which survive to this day. However, they are strictly oral, not written. They are most commonly spoken in the country’s small villages, where the people have worked hard to preserve their culture.
The Union asked the four women how life in southeast Iowa compares to life in their native country.
“The first thing is the weather,” Ellinghaus said.
“We say that Guatemala is the land of eternal spring,” Boender added, because the temperature is in the 60s and 70s year-round.
Guatemala is known for producing coffee, beans, and bananas. Ellinghaus mentioned that there are many more kinds of tropical fruit available in Guatemala than in southeast Iowa, noting that her home country has 22 different varieties of mangoes.
Ed and Judi Fox, who run a store in Fairfield called Two Eagles Native Designs, were among the first to take the microphone after Mayor Malloy gave the opening remarks. They performed what they called a “Four Direction” song while playing handmade drums. It is from a ceremony practiced by the Lakota tribe.
Ed and Judi were made relatives to a family in Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. They both have Native Americans as ancestors. Ed’s tribe is the Miami, who once occupied the Great Lakes region through Indiana and Ohio. Judi’s ancestors belonged to the Choctaw, occupying what is today Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.
The Union asked the Foxes what they most wanted the public to know about Native American history.
“I hope they respect the culture and learn not to generalize,” Ed said. “Every tribe is different. Every tribe has their own customs, their own ceremonies, and some of them are night and day different.”
Ed and Judi said one of the traditions they have kept alive is sundancing. Ed said sundancing is the most important ceremony to the Lakota people.
“The purpose of the dance is to bring health and happiness to the people. It’s not about the individual,” Ed said. “It’s very selfish to only pray for yourself. We always had a group that we danced and prayed for. I worked in the mental health field, so I always prayed for those who had schizophrenia, and that was for anybody who had schizophrenia throughout the United States and the world.”